The Psychic Landscape of Social Class & My Cleft Habitus | Part 3: Gaining the Scholastic Disposition

Again it has been over 2 months since I wrote the previous article in this series and I’ve mostly forgotten the basic jist of what I planned on saying subsequently. (I don’t like to make too rigid plans and usually just have a general idea that I keep in mind over the days and weeks working on each series.) Recently I have been working in a factory making medical supplies doing simple quality control work, inspecting products for defects. The job is boring but at least there are no customers and I get a little satisfaction of at least knowing the products the company I work for actually help people rather than contributing to our society’s obesity epidemic as past job’s did (although I still work to make some unknown boss rich while earning comparatively nothing).

The lack of mental stimulation at this job does mean I still have to use up my will on concentrating on not getting distracted too much and regulating my emotions, which is more difficult due to my disability. It doesn’t make me unable to do the work at all, but on top of having to be up at 5am and only getting home after 4pm at the earliest because I use public transport, I am exhausted and forcing myself to sit down and write is the last thing I feel like when home on the weekends. I am trying to exercise and thus increase my willpower constantly, so still forcing myself to go to the gym, drink alcohol less and continue abstaining from other drugs or smoking, but have apparently gotten lazy when it comes to my writing projects.

I try and balance goal-oriented behaviour with the idea that I might get hit by the bus rather than it picking me up one morning so I should try to enjoy life now more, but it’s also often just a rationalisation for selfish immediately-gratifying behaviours. I am incredibly lucky to be in the position I am now, especially considering broader humanity beyond my own society, so it would be immoral to just waste the opportunities I have. Regardless of the effort it takes, the suffering of boredom and fatigue, I live fairly comfortably now so should be more Stoic.

I still have opportunities ahead of me but it’s difficult to keep them in mind doing such menial work. Not that I look down on those who do it with me or see the job as unnecessary, but it makes me resentful that this is one of the best opportunities I have come across recently after being at university for 4 years. Other better opportunities do exist but they require relocating, which I won’t do until I can move with my fiancée who has just begun studying nursing here in my current city. Also, I considered going back to my university to get a masters degree in social research methods but they scrapped the course. Possibly ranting excuses over, I’ll try to continue with the series below!

 

In the previous article, we looked at how children sometimes bully according to social class and how this shows an, at least unconscious, understanding and acceptance of the privileging of symbolic mastery. This also showed that there are psychic effects of social class, mainly leading to internalised fears about class outcomes stemming from understanding of how class origins usually determine class outcomes, and also class hatred and/or envy.

At the end of that article I proposed to look at my own experiences of class mobility and attempt to explain my scholastic disposition as the result of early childhood experiences. For reasons mentioned in the personal preamble section of the previous article, it will be quite difficult to remain objective so although I would ask the reader to remain charitable, I still welcome any criticism that they think of. Since the object of our critique here is my own experiences and methods, not only of the present analysis, but my prior actions, criticism takes a dual nature of not only being about my methods as a thinker, but my actual personality. Hopefully one sees in this openness to analysis, and in my life actions, a constant striving for improvement and willingness to accept feedback from others, even if I sometimes initially react emotionally.

I find it difficult to believe that some people have memories of being a toddler while my own memories seem to start much later and even then, are mostly spotty. It’s also difficult due to my relationship with my parents being one of no contact for the past half a decade, to ask for details which might help me in this reconstruction, plus I could not trust them to be honest about them. I was born in Shropshire in the West Midlands. I am not sure if my mother worked then but have always known my father to be an engineer of some sorts, who in these early years worked abroad for most of the year. Very early in my life, we moved a suburban part of St Helens. There, I began to form my earliest memories and although we moved around quite a bit, St Helens became the general area I grew up in.

For the earlier parts of childhood, we were fairly middle class in the sense that I don’t remember ever going hungry, living in a comfortable suburban area where I would play outside with other children on our street. Culturally however I was fairly deprived compared to more middle class children in that, although I showed an interest in certain culturally valued pursuits, my parents did not have the propensity to invest in my education further, for example by reading to me or helping with my homework. For the most part, apart from school I was either confined to my room or left to my own devices outside. Upon reflection now, I was foolish to believe that I had it better than my friends who were under stricter, even though far from authoritarian, supervision.

It was around this time I remember my parents arguing increasingly and it leading to a couple of trial separations which I didn’t notice too much since my father had worked away so often. A few years later, we moved to another more urban part of St Helens. Although I was somewhat traumatised by the move, my no longer being able to see my childhood friends everyday, and the daunting apprehension of starting a new school, I was thrilled to live within walking distance of my maternal grandparents.  My memories around this age are still spotty but some significant events and factors that I think contribute to my social mobility and personal character, including certain traits which seem to be symptomatic of my BPD diagnosis, are outlined below.

(Note: Any discussion about possible causal links between events and my psychology are somewhat speculative but not completely uninformed musings. Although I have studied psychology at university and continue to privately, I am not a psychologist. Also, some of my knowledge about BPD comes from experience and discussion with doctors, counsellors, BPD support groups and online resources such as the highly regarded patient.info and NHS Choices. A friend donated copies of Judith Herman’s “Trauma and Recovery” and Bessel A. van der Kolk’s “The Body Keeps the Score” a while ago but I haven’t had time to read them but may write about this topic again after doing so.)

Around this time we moved another few times but always in the same area so I did not have to change the primary school I attended again. When primary school finished, I was forced to attend a completely different secondary (high) school than all of my friends. In fact, I was the only child from my school to go on to the one I did. Although it’s probable that this school was fairly better and attending it would increase my life chances, certain events make my mother’s motives (my father was a fortnightly weekend image at this point) for moving me unknown to me now. For example, at one point, I was invited to a summer school programme called the National Academy of Gifted and Talented Youth for my outstanding academic achievement. I recall being told to explain to my mother that she need not worry about money for the programme but she never bothered to sign the forms for me and this episode, among other more obvious abuses, has always been a source of anger and resentment that comes to mind when reflecting on my own social position. At times, motivating me to keep working and seeing the potential in myself that others saw in the past, other times, a painful and depressing reminder of my wasted potential and thoughts of possibilities denied to me by my own mother.

For large amounts of time, I sometimes lived with my maternal grandparents but cannot always recall why exactly. It was probably always because my mother and father had separated (and eventually divorced) and we didn’t always have another home to go to. It was probably most during these years that I was inculcated with values of hard work, gratitude, self-reliance and thrift. Although not exactly poor, my grandparents probably inherited these values from their parents who were considerably poor, and out of necessity due to the austerity when they were young and experiencing the shocks of deindustrialisation- especially my grandfather who was a miner. They were strict with me about not wasting food and I continue to finish my plate almost whatever the amount left and how full I feel, which probably contributed to my problems with food in the past. Some behaviours related to this value, although they started as unconscious habits, I now consciously value and continue. For example, I rarely buy clothes and try to get as much use out of my belongings as possible, which is good for the environment, but may perhaps sometimes negatively effect how I am perceived by others who sometimes assume I will be poor and uneducated due to the clothes I wear. In a way, to challenge these kind of common kinds of stereotype in our classist society, I also sometimes purposefully “dress down”, particularly when I think I will have the opportunity to change people’s perceptions and classed expectations, although I’m unsure about how effective this is.

Although I was a fairly bright child, I didn’t do well in school socially. I recall at the end of the final year in primary school, I was called to the head teacher’s office and was terrified as I tried to recall what mischief I had been up to recently so I could prepare excuses only to find that I was being congratulated on attaining some of the top grades in the school and region. This success might have motivated me to adopt a more industrious attitude to my schoolwork if not for the following years not affording me the stability I needed to focus. As mentioned earlier, I moved to a different school than all my peers for the first year. After nearly two years there, we moved again to live with my mother’s new fiancé and I attended a new school for a single week before summer so I might have chance to make friends for summer. A week didn’t seem like enough time to make friends, especially in the last week before summer break and the house we moved to was much more rural and I would not have had the opportunity to see any friends I made anyway. Over the summer, my mother broke up with her fiancé and we moved back in with her parents. For a few weeks into the start of the next academic year, I wasn’t attending school and I recall my mother refused to ask my last school if I could go back there. I ended up going to the secondary school which all my friends from primary school had gone to.

At my first secondary school, I struggled with problems paying attention. Although I still enjoyed school, especially when I wasn’t living with my maternal grandparents and it was superior to being at home, I struggled with my sense of identity, feeling like a new kid since I was the only child from my primary, although I was as new to high school as everyone else in my year. For a while, I had to see the school counsellor about potential anger problems and recall that for a while my goal in class was to pay attention for at least the first 20 minutes of each 50 minute block. I don’t recall much of the years at this school that seems relevant to the current article except perhaps that disappointingly, compared with the other school I went to, I don’t remember any particularly exceptional teachers in terms of motivating me and inculcating the value of symbolic mastery (at this age, the cultural capital associated with academic success). I do remember one incident which in fact pushed me further in my distrust of adults and disdain about school in which an English teacher lost my homework. It was the first English assignment I remember enjoying and spending such a large amount of time on. I had even asked my grandparents for stationary to write the assignment, the first time ever asking for materials related to my schooling, which we could consider an indication of the scholastic disposition appearing. It wasn’t until years later that I tried so hard on any school assignment and even recalling it now is bitter.

In this article I have begun to explore how I came to possess a scholastic disposition and certain values which I have been able to exchange and convert into different forms of capital that have allowed me to be socially mobile. This has been without reference to any specific notions of class thus far and in the next article, as I continue to explain my scholastic disposition, I will explain why I am choosing here to only allude to class mobility as difference in the amount of capital I have access to, rather than specific movements between classes. I shall also explain relationships during these years in terms of different forms of capital.


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